Going to dads’ group made me realise I needed to lift my game

Dad holding baby

Ever wondered what the dads talk about when they get together? Formula feeding, Ferberizing, or the footy? We reveal what goes down on “the other side”.  

As told to Emma Coward by Hugh Gibson

My wife shooed me off to a dads’ group

Sometimes you don’t know how lucky you are. Your other half may try to point it out to you, but in my case at least, it doesn’t always sink in.

Your mother may drop a few not-so-subtle hints – but my wife and my mum are so similar, I don’t tend to regard either opinion as truly “independent”.  

Sometimes, you need to be sat in a room with 11 other blokes, to realise just how lucky you are. I say, “be sat” because my wife, who is known for her dry delivery at the best of times, has taken to addressing me much like a recalcitrant child. (Sleep deprivation can make niceties like “hello” seem terribly unnecessary.)

The Saturday morning in question, she thrust our son towards me, “Take him, go meet some other dads and don’t return before midday.”

I discovered I had some catching up to do

Shockingly, the morning I was about to spend at dads’ group was to be my longest stretch of solo parenting up until that point. So it was with some trepidation that I stepped through the doors of our local library, the first dad off the rank.

It wasn’t long before more fathers began to arrive, all with their firstborns, all looking hopeful that they would uncover some gold nuggets to help them along their way as new parents.  

Like any good self-help group, we sat in a circle; our host introduced himself, and asked me to go first.

“Hi everybody, I’m Hugh, and this is William, and he’s… At least… Three months old…”

I took a moment to admonish myself – Emma would know exactly how old our boy was, I thought. Then I let myself off the hook; I bet none of these other dads would know their kids’ ages, either – surely not in increments of weeks.

Wrong.

Insight number one: by the time their offspring are “at least three months” of age, most modern fathers are well on their way to becoming experts on their kids, including how many weeks old they are. Clearly, I had some catching up to do.

I realised I was letting my wife down

As the other dads introduced themselves, they detailed everything from complicated sleep schedules, to esoteric rituals performed nightly to put baby to sleep, and weighed up the pros and cons of sacrifices made – like foregoing gym (I was still going five times a week) – so that they could have a bit more family time.

I could be in trouble here, I thought.

I hadn’t been getting up to help with night feeds. One time, my son had rejected the bottle and I suppose I used that as an excuse to justify why I couldn’t help out overnight. Sure enough, as each dad spoke in turn, it became apparent I was the only one enjoying the luxury of sleeping through the night.

Insight two: modern parenting is a 24/7-team effort; and while I’m spending hours a day at the office, my wife is working just as hard (or harder, because I don’t have to contend with dirty nappies and my co-workers generally refrain from bursting into unexplained fits of rage) raising our son.

Dad with sleeping baby

The joys and struggles of fatherhood are universal

As one dad recounted his daily routine – working a split shift as a chef, then returning home to put his baby daughter in the pram, then walking endless laps of the neighbourhood because that’s the only she will fall asleep – I observed a lot of the other blokes nodding vigorously to show they could relate.

Another one told of how he started organising family and friends to visit his wife while he was at work. Apparently she was furious at the intrusion, at first, but had come to really appreciate and enjoy the visits. I had to admit, I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing something like that.

It turned out that our curious cohort had a lot more in common than I first figured.  

While some had it better than others, (one had been lucky enough to score A-grade parental leave, another had been able to change his roster to work from home two mornings a week), the daily struggles and joys of fatherhood were more or less universal.

And then there was me, sheepishly admitting to myself, that I could do more. Much more.

It gave me the opportunity to grow

While I still think it’s horribly unfair the mums’ group goes for eight weeks, and the dads only get one session, it was a cracking good morning, and now we have a Whatsapp group, Superdads, where we compare notes on a daily basis, and organise catch-ups.

Nothing gets past my wife, but I wasn’t trying to hide my newfound insights. I was excited to step up my parenting game, and since then I’ve garnered insight three: the more you put into parenting, the more you get out of it.

That was also about the time I finally learned how lucky I am – to have a partner who’s supportive, and a great mum – but also to have the opportunity to be a great father.

Lead the way, Superdads!

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